NEW ORLEANS — Losses this time of year are hard.
Losses this time of year, when they come a few days after your 40th birthday, well, they make it even harder to accept.
“Yes, it does,’’ Drew Brees said softly.
Brees was on the wrong end of a 26-23 overtime loss to the Rams in Sunday’s taught NFC Championship Game inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees had his moments for the Saints, but not enough of them, as he came up short in his attempt to make it into the second Super Bowl of his career.
“This is tough,’’ Brees said. “Each one of these is unique and special. I am not getting any younger. Some days I feel like it.’’
This is back-to-back heartbreaking endings for Brees, and after 18 seasons, time is running out on him. He had his Saints one game away from the 2018 NFC title game, leading 24-23 in Minneapolis before the Minnesota Miracle happened and the Saints lost on the final play of the game. This one in many ways might hurt worse, as a blatant non-call on what should have been a pass interference penalty in the closing minutes of regulation cost Brees a chance to keep playing.
“It has to drive you,’’ Brees said. “There were plenty of opportunities for us offensively that we did not take advantage of. We felt there were some more plays we should have made.’’
Brees was 26-of-40 for 249 yards, with touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Griffin and Taysom Hill and one interception. He had never truly heated up the way he has so often playing in his favorite indoor playpen. He got the ball first in overtime with a chance to make something happen but came up short. Woefully short. His first pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Michael Brockers. His second pass, a deep ball to tight end Dan Arnold, did not have enough zip on the throw and fell to the turf.
The only first down the Saints managed came on a pass-interference penalty, but from his 34-yard line, Brees dropped back and as he tried to step into the throw was hit by linebacker Dante Fowler. That caused the pass to flutter into the air and fall nowhere near the intended target, receiver Michael Thomas. Safety John Johnson located the descending ball and was able to make a grab for an interception as he fell backwards to the turf, giving the Rams the ball near midfield.
“It’s tough,’’ Brees said. “I thought we had a chance to go down and get points, get a touchdown.’’
The Saints will look back on what transpired and know they did not help themselves. They drove deep into Rams territory on the first offensive series and came away with a field goal. They got the ball on the Rams 16-yard line after a Demario Davis interception and got nothing more than a field goal. They took a 13-0 lead after one quarter, but scored only 10 more points the rest of the way.
Brees has said he will not try to play forever, but he is not thinking retirement. He has one year remaining on his contract and said “I feel pretty positive’’ he will return for a 19th NFL season.
Why does he feel confident?
“Because,’’ Brees said, “I feel like I will.’’